July 4, 2009

Doyle’s travel reports deficient: Documentation lacking 145 times over two years

This story, originally published July 5, 2009, was updated on July 24 based on information provided to the Center following publication that shows Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton and her staff did not provide receipts to the state 2 percent of the time in 2007 and 2008, not a third of the time as reported. View the correction.

The following is an Editor’s Note published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sept. 6, 2009, regarding the July 5 report on travel records:

Gov. Jim Doyle and his staff submitted receipts 70 percent of the time in 2007 and 2008 for travel expenses reviewed by the Journal Sentinel, newly released records show, and not 28 percent of the time as the Journal Sentinel reported nine weeks ago.

The records show Doyle and his aides submitted receipts 129 times for 185 charges reviewed by reporters. In an additional eight cases, they exceeded state spending limits without a written explanation, for a total of 64 violations of the travel policy. The Journal Sentinel — working with the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and a University of Wisconsin-Madison reporting class — reported July 5 that Doyle and his staff did not follow state travel policy 145 times in 2007 and 2008.

The discrepancy was caused by misunderstandings over which records state officials provided to the newspaper, the center and the students.

The three groups were dealing with several state officials from both the governor’s office and the Department of Administration. Before publication, the newspaper thought it received final confirmation from the state that it had received all travel records and associated expenses for the governor and staff traveling with him for 2007 and 2008.

Actually, the reporting groups received an assortment of records from the state that included all of the governor’s travel expenses, as well as the expenses of some but not all staff members who traveled with the governor, and the receipts of some staff members traveling separately from the governor.

Other details in the story — such as how much was spent on limousine travel, hotel rooms and flights — were accurate.

Aides to Doyle said the policy requiring additional documentation for the eight cases when spending limits were exceeded didn’t apply because the charges were made on state credit cards. That policy is in effect only when employees pay expenses personally and seek reimbursement from the state, they said.

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Gov. Jim Doyle and his staff failed to properly account for 145 travel expenses over two years, including a $5,200 business-class flight to Ireland and a $654-a-night stay in a London hotel.

Nearly three-fourths of the time in 2007 and 2008, Doyle and his staff didn’t supply receipts as required under state travel policy. By comparison, Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton and her staff didn’t provide receipts 2 percent of the time during the same period.

Travel records also showed Doyle spent more than $1,500 on two chauffeured vehicles in Canada. That expenditure did not violate state travel policy, however.

State policy requires employees to provide receipts for purchases made with their state-issued credit cards for flights, hotels and other expenses. That documentation was often missing from hundreds of pages of Doyle’s travel records obtained under the state’s open records law.

“The governor, as the leader of the state, needs to set an example on austerity and accountability, and his staff has not been instructed to keep good records – and they need to do that,” said Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay), a member of the Joint Audit Committee who is often critical of government spending.

But Susan Goodwin, Doyle’s chief of staff, said the governor’s office acted appropriately in all cases.

“We are careful,” she said. “We are frugal. We minimize costs. If you stepped back and looked at the bigger picture instead of the tiny details of following some (Department of Administration) policies, you would look at that list and say, ‘Wow, how many times did he actually have dinner somewhere? . . .  How little did he travel?’

“If you compared him to other governors and what they do, you’d be shocked at how little this governor moves around.”

She said his travel expenses are properly vetted before they are made.

Asked if the governor would change how he tracks travel expenses, Goodwin said, “Absolutely not, absolutely not. . . . We will not limit his role or chain him down and not allow him to fulfill his duties as governor.”

The lieutenant governor, who like Doyle is a Democrat, said she aspires for 100% compliance.

“We don’t get per diems, nor do I get housing, but these are the rules and we work very hard to be in compliance. . . . We want to live by the standards that have been set (for) us,” Lawton said.

Doyle’s travel records were reviewed by a group of reporters and student journalists as part of a joint project involving the Journal Sentinel, a University of Wisconsin-Madison investigative reporting class and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Among expenses that weren’t properly documented was a business-class ticket to Ireland for Doyle in April 2008 that cost $5,226 round trip. An accompanying coach-class ticket for Goodwin cost $830. They made the trip to Ireland and England to meet with the head of SABMiller about the merger of Miller Brewing and Coors and to discuss policy issues with government officials.

The travel policy requires state employees to purchase the lowest appropriate airfare, which is described as coach fare. More expensive charges require written justification, but that wasn’t provided for Doyle’s trip to Ireland.

Goodwin and Chandra Miller Fienen, Doyle’s chief legal counsel, said the more expensive ticket was warranted because Doyle needed to be well-rested.

“We can’t afford to have the governor sick,” Miller Fienen said. “We have to make sure that the governor arrives able to do his job, able to participate fully . . . and we have to protect the governor’s health.”

Sen. Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) said the ticket was excessive, especially in light of long-standing budget shortfalls. He compared flying business class to renting high-end vehicles.

“Clearly, our financial health has been on life support since 2003, and that $5,000 on an airplane ticket when he could have gotten a cheaper one shows a degree of arrogance,” Ellis said. “I’m not saying for a second that the governor should have to hitchhike to Ireland, but common sense would dictate that if you are in hard economic times, you don’t rent a Cadillac when you can get a Chevy Cobalt.”

Expenses tracked

Miller Fienen said the governor tracks his expenses differently than other state employees because his job requires him to constantly travel. Although the governor doesn’t always comply with the policy set for the state’s 69,000 employees, she said the governor’s process of documenting travel adheres to the policy’s intent.

Heidi Skatrud, a vice president with the Waterford-based consulting firm Runzheimer International, said private companies usually have a travel policy for regular employees and may have a separate one for executives. The executive policy often allows them to fly business class and stay at nicer hotels in recognition that they travel frequently.

By contrast, Doyle and other top officials fall under the same policy that rank-and-file employees do.

State workers who travel frequently at taxpayer expense are issued state credit cards for hotels, transportation and other costs. The credit cards make it easy for the state to track expenses, but the workers are required to retain original receipts and get written approval for certain expenses.

Those who violate the rules can have their cards taken away and may face discipline.

Even though there is no exemption for the governor from the travel policy, Miller Fienen said it didn’t make sense for the governor to get advance approval for travel because he is the highest-ranking official in Wisconsin.

“We have an understanding with the Department of Administration, and it’s very unique to just the unique situation of the governor,” she said.

But Cowles, the senator on the audit committee, found that reasoning flawed.

“That’s the attitude that gets us in trouble, whether it’s a state senator, or a state rep, or a governor or anybody in government – you think you’re above it because (of) whatever position you have,” he said. “I think that puts us in trouble. The governor has to show an example and leadership on these kinds of things.”

The governor and his staff spent more than $105,000 on travel over two years, according to his records. Doyle aides said it’s important for the governor to travel to lure business to Wisconsin and to lobby Congress and the White House.

Aides to the governor said Doyle is frugal, that he often skips meals on the road and that he refuses to fly first class on domestic flights.

Doyle’s staff often submitted only credit card statements that showed the total amount spent on a transaction instead of providing receipts. Goodwin said that practice made his expenses transparent.

But the procurement manual for state credit cards says, “The cardholder will maintain a record of purchases and retain all original receipts.”

Doyle and his staff provided receipts 52 times for 186 charges that required them, or 28% of the time. Doyle and his staff also didn’t provide required documentation on other occasions, making a total of 145 violations of travel rules over the two years.

Receipts more detailed

Credit card statements don’t provide as many details as receipts, said Paul Stuiber, who is auditing the use of state credit cards for the Legislative Audit Bureau.

One April 2008 statement for Doyle showed a $2,614 charge at a Marriott in London. But without the required receipt, there was no way to tell who stayed there, how many rooms were used and how long the stay was.

Weeks after reporters raised questions about Doyle’s expenses, the governor’s staff contacted hotels where Doyle stayed to retrieve some of the missing receipts. The London receipt showed he stayed there for four nights, at $654 a night, including taxes.

Goodwin stayed there for $2,015, or $504 a night on average.

In Toronto, Doyle and his staff paid Carey International Limo $1,526 for a chauffeured minivan and chauffeured sport utility vehicle the first day and $395 on the second. Doyle made the trip to discuss trade, agriculture, green energy and protecting the Great Lakes.

Doyle and his aides would have spent less than half that amount if they had rented two vehicles, a review of area rental rates and gas prices showed. State policy says employees should use rental cars if they are the most economical option.

Doyle and his aides were accompanied by two security personnel who routinely drive the governor in Wisconsin. David Erwin, Doyle’s security chief, said it wasn’t feasible to have Wisconsin troopers drive the governor in a foreign country and that local law enforcement wasn’t able to provide transportation.

Missing hotel receipts accounted for about two-thirds of the 145 policy violations.

Doyle had a $519-a-night stay for three nights at the Washington, D.C., Marriott in February 2008 for a National Governors Association meeting. No receipts were submitted when the charge was made.

Doyle’s staff said the governor always stays at hotels where conferences are held, as allowed by state policy, so he can fully participate in them.

In May 2007, Doyle stayed two nights at the InterContinental Boston for $1,226 – or $613 a night, including taxes – for a bioscience conference. That wasn’t a violation of state policy because Doyle’s staff provided receipts for him.

Doyle’s $654-a-night stay at the London Marriott was his most expensive hotel charge.

Under state policy, employees can spend up to $40 per day on meals when traveling out of state. Doyle and his staff often didn’t provide receipts for meals that went over that amount, and even when they did it was usually impossible to tell how many people the charges were for.

Meal charges were not included in the violation totals for this report because it was impossible to tell whether charges went over the per-person limit since they sometimes dined in groups and paid for meals with one card.

This report was a collaboration of the Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and a University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication class taught by Deborah Blum.

Patrick Marley is a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter. Jacob Kushner and Alex Morrell worked on the story as both journalism students and reporters with the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Ariana Rasansky worked on it as a student. Students Nina Gehan and Maddy Mahon helped research the story as part of the journalism class. Ariana Rasansky contributed to this report. The Journal Sentinel’s story may be viewed at:

http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/49943732.html


Download the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel graphic

About This Story

The Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and a University of Wisconsin-Madison reporting class began looking into state travel in the fall of 2008. Graduate student Nina Gehan requested records in September 2008 for statewide officeholders. She and other students in professor Deborah Blum’s spring 2009 reporting class followed up with state officials to get those records and review them as they came in.

As the students examined records, they narrowed their focus to the travel of Gov. Jim Doyle. Students studied state travel policy, compared the policies to the records, created spreadsheets of the governor’s travel and conducted interviews on their own and with Journal Sentinel reporter Patrick Marley. The students also wrote initial drafts of the story.

When the semester ended, two of the students, Jacob Kushner and Alex Morrell, continued to work on the story as reporters with the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit group launched in January by former Wisconsin State Journal reporter Andy Hall. Students Ariana Rasansky and Maddy Mahon also worked on the story.

Blum, Hall, Marley and Mark Katches, the Journal Sentinel’s deputy managing editor for projects, investigations and planning, worked with the students throughout the reporting process.

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  • BadgerPolitics

    Where’s the comparison to other governors’ travel? Sounds like this pales in comparison to other states.